by James A. Bacon
When Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney needed help taking down the city’s Confederate statues, he turned to Devon Henry, a prominent local construction contractor who had donated $4,000 to his 2016 mayoral campaign and political action committee. No local crane & rigging company in Virginia was willing to undertake the controversial project, but Henry lined up a Connecticut firm willing to do the work.
Bypassing City of Richmond procurement procedures and city administrators on the grounds that the city was facing an “emergency” in the form of civil unrest, Stoney awarded the contract directly to Henry himself. Under the $1.8 million agreement, the city reimbursed NAH $180,000 per day for equipment, crew, and consultants.
That sum struck some observers as exorbitant. Bacon’s Rebellion could not find a Virginia rigging company willing to comment upon the contract on the record, but an individual with one firm said the job would have cost no more than $10,000 a day had it been handled by a local contractor, or $20,000 a day for an out-of-state contractor who had to pay for transportation, food and lodging for its crew. He was astonished that anyone could get away with charging $180,000 per day for the job.
Stoney spokesman Jim Nolan declined to respond to Bacon’s Rebellion questions asking how Stoney selected Henry for the lucrative contract. Likewise, Henry declined to respond to questions posed by Bacon’s Rebellion.
Whether favoritism was involved or not, efforts have been made to keep Henry’s identity secret. The attorney filing the State Corporation Commission registration for NAH, LLC, the legal entity granted the contract, declined to list the name of the company’s principal or principals, as is commonly done though not required. The attorney who filed the registration declined to answer a Bacon’s Rebellion request for the principal’s name. Likewise, in responding to a Freedom of Information request filed by a Virginia state employee, the city provided a copy of the contract that included Stoney’s signature but a blank space where Henry’s would have gone. Stoney spokesman Nolan also declined to respond to a Bacon’s Rebellion request for the principal’s identity.
Bacon’s Rebellion has partnered in this investigation with a concerned citizen who filed the FOIA requests. Based on the first round of documents released by FOIA, we published, “Who Is Behind NAH, LLC?” Our collaborator, who does construction procurement for a state agency but asked to remain unnamed, filed a follow-up request. That query revealed NAH LLC’s principal’s identity to be Devon Henry, a resident of western Henrico County, president and CEO of Newport News-based Team Henry Enterprises, and a Stoney contributor.
The legality of Stoney’s order to remove the monuments has been challenged in a lawsuit filed by Monument Avenue residents living in the vicinity of the affected statues. The mayor’s actions, states the lawsuit, “exceeded his authority under the City Charter, the laws of the Commonwealth, and the emergency ordinance adopted by City Council and, therefore, was ultra vires, illegal and invalid.” The lawsuit argued that the mayor did not obtain authorization from City Council and failed to comply with the city code which requires holding a properly publicized public hearing.
Stoney’s bypassing of the city’s procurement procedures raises more questions about the legality of his action. Additionally, the revelation that he awarded a lucrative contract to a campaign contributor opens the mayor, who is running for re-election this year, to charges of cronyism.
In 2018 Stoney backed the recommendations of a Monument Avenue commission to take down the Jefferson Davis statue but keep the other Civil War memorials and add signage that would explain the historical context in which they were erected. The killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis this May, which ignited a wave of Black Lives Matter protests across the country, changed the political calculus.
On May 31, Governor Ralph Northam issued an emergency order declaring a state of civil unrest. The order directed state and local governments “to render appropriate assistance to prepare for and respond to this situation, to alleviate any conditions resulting from the situation, and to … return impacted areas to pre-event conditions as much as possible.” The Governor also put the City of Richmond under an 8 p.m.-to-6 a.m. curfew.
On June 3 Stoney declared his solidarity with the BLM movement and its demands to remove the Confederate statues. “George Floyd’s death may have happened in Minnesota,” he said, “but the shock waves are bringing very valid pain to the surface in our city. Last night, Richmond told me to channel our city’s pain into reform.” He promised to introduce an ordinance to remove all Confederate monuments on city land effective July 1, the day new state legislation gave local governments the authority over the fate of monuments on their land.
The protest movement in Richmond became increasingly violent with each passing day in June, however. Militants first spray painted statues around the city with graffiti. Then, suffering few consequences from law enforcement, protesters proceeded to pull down statue of Jefferson Davis, a statue of Christopher Columbus, and a memorial to the First Virginia Infantry regiment formed before the Revolutionary War. The efforts culminated with an unsuccessful attempt to use a rope to pull down a statue of J.E.B. Stuart on Monument Avenue.
Declaring an unlawful assembly, Richmond police fired pepper spray and flash bangs to disperse the crowd. Protesters were furious, claiming there was no justification for such forceful measures. Stoney fired the police chief. The chief’s temporary successor resigned soon after, and a third chief would not be hired until June 26.
As the situation careened out of control, Stoney informed City Council on June 22 he was seeking a legal avenue to remove the statues. Marion and Greg Werkheiser, Richmond attorneys specializing in cultural heritage, provided the mayor a way to do it: Invoke the emergency powers granted to him by Governor Ralph Northam and affirmed by City Council. Interim City Attorney Haskell Brown warned that the act would run the risk of violating state law and triggering felony charges, but Stoney proclaimed that he was prepared to take the risk.
Stoney had a big problem, however. No one wanted the job. The owners of most, if not all, rigging companies in Virginia fell into a white, blue-collar, old-Virginia demographic that, to be charitable, was not sympathetic to removing the Confederate statues. As an individual with one company told Bacon’s Rebellion, tearing down the statues would ruin their reputation in the business.
That reality had come to light earlier in the month when the Northam administration looked into removing the the statue of Robert E. Lee, which stands on state-owned land. Chief of Staff Clark Mercer told the Washington Post that it was so confident in its legal case that the administration “tried to take down the statue quietly. But the administration could find no takers. “It was pretty disappointing,” Mercer said. “We got a lot of colorful comments.” At one company, he added, the younger generation was willing but the older owners threatened to disown them if they went ahead.
By July 1, Stoney had signed the deal with NAH to remove the statues, and his allies on City Council sought the Council’s formal backing. Declaring that the presence of the statues “creates a public safety concern,” Resolution 2020-R041 would authorize Stoney, in his capacity as Director of Emergency Management, to order “the temporary removal and storage of certain statues in the City of Richmond.” City Council approval was not forthcoming, however. Council kicked the decision over to the finance committee.
Unwilling to wait, Stoney gave the co-ahead to NAH on his own authority.
The first inkling in the public record that Stoney was planning something occurred June 22, when Diana Lyn C. MGraw, an attorney in the Tysons office of the Fox Rothschild law firm, filed the organization papers for NAH, LLC. The filing declined to list the identity of the principal or principals of the firm. Documentation of Henry’s role would not surface until a month later with the filing of a vendor registration form.
The same day that NAH was filing its SCC registration, Stoney told City Council he was seeking a legal avenue to remove the statues. That was the day that interim City Attorney Brown warned that such an action would run the risk of violating state law, which could result in felony charges.
“I’m willing to take that risk,” Stoney said. “If I had Superman strength and could go and arrive at Monument Avenue and remove them myself and get slapped with a class 6 felony, I would have done that yesterday.”
A document dated July 1 laid out NAH’s plan for relocating up to 11 sculptures and cannons owned by the City of Richmond. The proposal noted that the sculptures were to be removed from the base, and for the stone or concrete plinths to remain in place. The sculptures were to be delivered to a location selected by the city. “NAH LLC ,” said the proposal, “has assembled a world-class team of riggers, operators, fabricators, and artists who specialize in the preservation, handling and replacement of one-of-a-kind art pieces to assist in the completion of the project.”
NAH would “mobilize the necessary men and equipment to the City of Richmond” for the price of $900,000. The proposal anticipated that the actual work would take five days and another $900,000. Regardless of how many days it actually took, the city would pay a total of $1.8 million for service rendered.
The contract proposal did not appear out of the blue. Stoney spokesman Nolan indicated in his response to our FOIA request that there had been extensive communications between Stoney and “a representative of NAH LLC” regarding the statues — 75 records in all. However, the records were being withheld as the mayor’s “working papers and correspondence.”
Two documents confirm the identify of Devon Henry as the “representative of NAH LLC” whom Nolan was referring to. One document was a July 10, 2020, vendor registration form listing Henry as the Managing Member of NAH LLC. The second is a requisition form dated July 13, 2020 (shown below).
Henry’s professional background is construction contracting. One of the fields of expertise highlighted on the Team Henry Enterprises website is “construction management.”
As we reconstruct his activities from evidence contained in the public record, Henry engaged Diana McGraw, a Northern Virginia attorney, to register NAH. It is possible that they had a pre-existing business relationship. Her law firm biography lists the following areas of expertise: managing small business/minority enterprise subcontracting plans and “drafting joint venture and teaming agreements.”
To handle the heavy work of removing and transporting the statues, Henry sub-contracted Smedley Crane and Rigging, a family-owned company based in Banford, Conn. The company dispatched a crew, a work truck, a larger flat-bed truck, and a crane — possibly two, one orange and one blue, judging by photographs taken of the statue dismantlings. The company declined to respond to a Bacon’s Rebellion request for information about its involvement in the project.
NAH also hired Paul DiPasquale, a Richmond sculptor best known as creator of the Arthur Ashe statue on Monument Avenue and of the 34-foot-tall King Neptune statue in Virginia Beach. DiPasquale and welder/collaborator Jillian Holland were tasked, according to a news report, “with assisting the city and a local minority-owned contractor with removing all of the remaining Confederate statues.” It is not clear from press accounts exactly what they did, but they were on the scene.
Although large crowds and the media watched the dismantling of the statues, the jobs proceeded without incident. The structural integrity of the statues was preserved. The statues were transported to the city waste-treatment facility for storage.
Listing Mayor Stoney as the primary point of contact, NAH submitted its first invoice July 3 for work performed, and a second invoice July 10.
Who is Devon Henry?
Although Henry declined a Bacon’s Rebellion request for an interview, a fair amount of information about him is available on the Internet. He is active civically and a rising figure in the black business community. He is involved on the periphery of politics as a donor, though I could uncover no evidence that he is a partisan activist.
A native of Newport News, Henry graduated from Norfolk State University in 1999. According to his LinkedIn account, he worked five years as a project manager and then sales engineer for GE Infrastructure, and he attended a series of executive management programs at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, the Tuck School of Business and Northwestern University.
In 2006, Henry acquired the Silty Lady, a firm that specialized in erosion and sediment control, to form Team Henry Enterprises. As a small, minority-owned enterprise, Team Henry built an impressive roster of federal government clients, including the Department of the Army, the Naval Facilities Engineering Command, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Marine Corps, FEMA, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Department of the Interior. Private sector clients include Elizabeth River Crossing and Bon Secours.
The company has garnered numerous awards and recognitions, including two by the Initiative for Competitive Inner City as one of the top 100 fastest-growing inner-city firms in the country.
Although Team Henry maintains its headquarters in Newport News, Henry lives in western Henrico County, where the company has a field office.
Henry is actively engaged in the community. He serves on the board of visitors of his alma mater, Norfolk State. He is also has a leadership position with his fraternity, Phi Beta Sigma, a African-American Greek organization. Phi Beta Sigma engages in business networking, generational wealth building, and community engagement. He is president of the PBS East Foundation, founded in 2018. On his Facebook page, Henry describes his participation in a Phi Beta Sigma trip to Ghana where he toured slave-trading castles, visited with a fraternal school, gave away school supplies, and met with government officials and chiefs to discuss “how Sigma can make a difference.”
He also serves on the board of Venture Richmond, an organization dedicated to advancing downtown Richmond through economic development, marketing, promotion, advocacy and events. As mayor, Stoney is president of the organization.
Phi Beta Sigma is another possible point of contact between Stoney and Henry. The fraternity has a chapter on the James Madison University campus, Stoney’s alma mater, although I could not confirm from online research whether he belonged to it. An internet search did reveal this photo, posted on the fraternity website, of Stoney posing with a Phi Beta Sigma brother at George Washington Carver Elementary School. If Stoney has been involved with the organization, this is the only evidence of it that I could find.
What is certain is that Henry has helped advance Stoney’s political ambitions. According to the Virginia Public Access Project, he has made $10,650 in Virginia political contributions over the years, including $2,000 to Stoney’s 2016 election campaign and $2,000 to his One Richmond political action committee.
There is no record yet of Henry donating to Stoney’s re-election campaign this year.
Other than pointing to Governor Northam’s executive order declaring a state of emergency, Stoney has offered no justification for ignoring the City of Richmond’s procurement policies. Under normal circumstances, the city must acquire services through competitive, sealed bids. However , the city code states (my bold):
In an emergency the Director [of Procurement Services] may authorize or order the expenditure of funds for emergency purchases of supplies, materials, equipment and contractual services for the using agencies without competitive sealed bidding or competitive negotiation; however, such procurement shall be made with such competition as is practicable under the circumstances. A written determination of the basis for the emergency shall be included in the contract file.
The city code does allow “emergency purchases” when “a dangerous condition has developed” and action is deemed “essential to protect and preserve the interests of the City and its inhabitants,” a condition that most some would contend existed July 1 when Stoney signed the contract. However, there was no document detailing “the basis for the emergency” included among the documents we received in response to our FOIA request.
The city code is clear about one other point: “No official, elected or appointed or any employee shall purchase or contract for any good, services, insurance or construction … other than by and through the Director.”
Mayor Stoney is not director of procurement. That office is held by Betty Burrell, a senior government official who previously served as the city’s deputy director of finance. She also has held senior executive positions in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Albemarle County. Burrell’s name appears on the requisition form displayed above, which pointedly stated that “This is a confirmation of Mayor Stoney’s order” and that the DPW (Department of Public Works) was issuing the requisition “as a clerical and ministerial action only.” These notes in the requisition order suggest that city administrators were fully aware that Stoney was enlisting the services of NAH LLC outside the normal procurement procedures. The transaction was recorded for accounting purposes only.
In July and August, the City of Richmond has issued two other emergency awards: one to the Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce for “materials and professional services for critical information and PPE resources to small businesses … in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” and one to Pure Consultants, LLC, of Midlothian for “facility disinfecting.” Unlike the NAH LLC document, both were co-signed by Burrell and a contract specialist.
Was $1.8 million an exorbitant sum to take down the statues? Given the fact that no Virginia rigging contractor was willing to perform the job, it was not unreasonable to look outside the state, nor was it unreasonable to cover additional transportation, board and lodging expenses that the firm would incur. However, it is a legitimate question whether $180,000 was excessive, as at least one local rigger thinks it was.
In yet another potential irregularity, Stoney signed the contract July 1. In the contract, NAH stated that it anticipated that mobilization of the work crew would “begin on or about June 26, 2020 and be complete on or about June 27, 2020.” The contract called for keeping the necessary manpower and equipment “on standby in, or very near, the City of Richmond, ready to work at the direction of the City.” Given the fact that work on the statues began July 2, as called for in the contract, one might inquire if Stoney gave the OK to mobilize the work crew several days before signing the contract.
In sum, Stoney’s signing of the contract raises at least four issues:
- He acted entirely on his own rather than going through the director of procurement.
- He failed to submit a written determination of the basis of the emergency for inclusion in the contract file. (If he did write such a document, the mayor’s office did not release it under our FOIA request.)
- He provided a $1.8 million no-bid contract to a contractor who happened to be a campaign donor and political supporter.
- He may have authorized NAH to mobilize the rigging team several days before he actually signed the contract.
The issues here are not about the rightness of wrongness of taking down Richmond’s Confederate statues. They’re about following the law in order to do so. At the very least Stoney’s actions appear highly irregular.
Thanks to Carol J. Bova for researching City of Richmond procurement policies.